Our bars, connecting and community

Posted: May 12th, 2017 | Back Out With Benny, Columns, Featured | 2 Comments

By Ben Cartwright | Back Out With Benny

One month from today will mark one year since the horrific Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida. While the shooting was absolutely devastating, it proved once again that our community is great at rallying together in times of need. Within 24 hours of the shooting, gatherings popped up across the country for community members to be there for each other and help one another process what had just happened.

The massacre also served as a reminder of the importance of our LGBTQ bars and nightclubs — our original LGBT community centers.

A few weeks ago, I was getting an iced tea at a local coffee shop and someone from the community stopped me.

“Benny, I appreciate all your work in the community, but I feel like on social media I always see you in bars,” he said. “That’s probably not the best way to represent yourself.”

I smiled, thanked him for the unsolicited advice and went on with my day. But his comment really struck me; and what it did was make me want to commit myself even more to making sure people know that these places, these LGBT bars and nightclubs, are places where our community comes together, celebrates, raises funds, and more.

A big part of my persona in the community revolves around being accessible to folks who want to discuss community issues, learn more about how they can get involved, and so many things, and bars are places where many people feel comfortable approaching me.

LGBT bars are safe places for people to come out and be themselves, and my presence in these spaces gives folks — who might not have the chance to otherwise partake in community affairs — the opportunity to interact with someone who can show them the way.

Over the last couple years, I’ve become known for my weekly #BennyHour happy hour at a particular local bar. It started simply because I happen to like that particular bar, enjoyed the drink specials, and it was easier to just plant myself in the same spot every week, rather than those endless texts with friends every Friday “Where should we go tonight?”

My friends soon learned that while they could continue to figure out their own plans each week, they always knew where to find me. Friends continue to visit me during the many hours that make up #BennyHour, but others from the community also sometimes stop by, to chat about issues that are concerning them, get my perspective on things, and just otherwise connect. I’m really proud to be a part of this tradition, which I feel, is what community is all about.

Being out and social also gives us the opportunity to celebrate. There are so many things to celebrate (rather than complain about) every day, and I like to toast friends who get job promotions, have signed a new apartment lease, or for any number of victories — our lives are worth celebrating!

Sure, there are times when I want to let loose and just be another bar patron myself and not have to discuss things related to work or the community, but I’ve found my places to do that — which I won’t divulge!

Our bars remain key spaces in our community and it’s important that we protect them, patronize them, and celebrate their existence! I have built many “mini-families” among the various patrons and staff of the venues I frequent, and I am so lucky to have these people in my life.

While bars aren’t for everyone for a variety of reasons, they continue to serve as safe spaces for so many people to connect with community, and we need to hold onto that — and not shame those who choose these spaces as their outlet.

Getting Out With Benny

Right along with the theme of this column, the Lambda Archives will host its next Out at the Archives event focusing on the topic “The Importance of Gay Bars.” The event is scheduled for Thursday, June 8 from 7-9 p.m., inside one of largest local gay nightclubs, Rich’s. The event will feature a panel of bar owners and managers who will talk about their part in the history of our local gay bars. For tickets and more information, visit

Two of our community’s larger fundraising events are coming up in the next couple of weeks including Mama’s Kitchen’s annual Mama’s Day, and The San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast.

Mama’s Day, Friday, May 12, is a foodie’s dream with dozens of local restaurants serving up samplings of their delicious food and drink in a classy but comfortable setting at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine. It’s a highlight of the year for many people’s social calendars and benefits the lifesaving work of Mama’s Kitchen. Visit

Benny Cartwright (Photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography)

The Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast, scheduled for Friday, May 19, brings together more than 1,000 diverse San Diegans — business, labor, Democrats, Republicans, all communities, all ages, all San Diegans who support equality and justice — to celebrate the memory of this influential civil rights activist. This is an event not to miss! Visit

—Benny Cartwright is the director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He can be reached at 619-692-2077 ext. 106 or


  1. John Durkee says:

    Hi Benny. What an interesting and inciteful explanation of the importance of bars in the gay culture. It was the Stonewall uprising ( not riot ) after all that gave birth to the modern gay rights movement. As an ambassador from a different world ; I have always been made to feel welcome and accepted. You are correct to emphasize the positive aspects of these environments. And God knows they are wonderful places to let your hair down and have a good time as well. I just hope that we play st one of the places where to get to relax.

  2. John Durkee says:

    Where you get to relax ; it should say.

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